After sharing a field with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks twice in three career starts, Justin Herbert will have another brush with QB royalty on Monday Night Football.
Week 5 will be the third time in four weeks that Drew Brees and the Saints will play in prime time. New Orleans is 0-2 in those contests and will look to add to the win column at home against the Chargers and their hotshot rookie who is still searching for his first win.
Here are four storylines to watch for when the Los Angeles Chargers face the New Orleans Saints inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on MNF (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN):
How will the Chargers’ offense function without Austin Ekeler?
Thankfully for the Chargers, rookie Joshua Kelley is a capable fill-in for the injured Austin Ekeler. Kelley possesses the ability to run between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. He’s second on the team in touches (59) and rush yards (174), and has caught all seven targets for 84 yards. Third-year back Justin Jackson is also one to watch in his second game back from injury. Facing another stingy run D could again place more pressure on Herbert to create, which he’s shown he can do so far. His big arm has produced big numbers (310.3 YPG) and his fearlessness in the pocket and on the move has been exciting to watch; he even led L.A. in rush yards in its shootout against the Bucs (14). Obviously, that wouldn’t be ideal here, though. Keenan Allen — league-high 41 targets and 28 receptions since Herbert’s Week 2 debut, per NFL Research — has benefitted volume-wise but he’s only scored once. It’s going to take a collective effort to keep pace with the Saints.
What will Alvin Kamara do next?
A lot of attention — and rightfully so — has been paid to the absence of Michael Thomas, who will miss a fourth-straight game. But, as the numbers show, the Saints have managed to stay among the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses (30.8 PPG). At the center of this production has been Alvin Kamara. The dynamic playmaker entered Week 5 leading the league with 557 yards and seven TDs from scrimmage. Since Week 2, Kamara leads the Saints with 25 receptions (27 targets) for 270 yards. His ability to shift into a more prominent role in the passing game combined with Latavius Murray’s hard-nosed running gives the offense a viable one-two punch to operate around. Brees hasn’t been airing it out like he has in previous years, due in part to the lack of a reliable downfield target, but Kamara’s shiftiness has turned a number of short yardage passes into big plays. Against a ravaged Chargers pass defense that has given 263 YPG (eighth-most), Kamara could have yet another sensational outing.
Who will step up on Bolts D if Joey Bosa is hindered?
The Chargers have six sacks on the year. Joey Bosa, who has been dealing with a trio of ailments over the past week, owns three of those. Should Bosa play as expected, it’s likely he won’t be at 100 percent and could still draw several double teams. If that’s the case, who will step up and make life difficult for a QB with one of the NFL’s quickest releases? Here’s looking at you, Jerry Tillery and Uchenna Nwosu. Those two have been promising pieces along the D-line, and will have a tall task to overcome against one of the league’s best O-lines. L.A. owns one of the league’s lowest blitz rates and, given Brees’ proficiency on underneath routes, the linebackers will already have their hands full. It won’t be easy but pressuring Brees will be crucial, especially if L.A.’s offense continues to struggle with turnovers (seven over their last three).
Saints in search of stop gap in red zone
Here’s an interesting stat: the Saints’ defense has allowed the same PPG that the offense has scored. That’s probably not sustainable over a season. Consistently getting off the field on third down is an area the Saints continue to struggle in, and it has led to dreadful results in the red zone. The Saints’ opponents have scored a TD on 14 of 17 drives inside of the 20 this season, the highest conversation rate (82.4) by any defense since 2000, according to NFL Research. New Orleans’ secondary is coming off its best effort in Week 4, holding the Lions to under 200 yards, but will need to do a better job of playing complementary football; the group has allowed 11 of those 14 scores.
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